Comic book movies often unintentionally deliver messages that contradict their original themes, such as Tony Stark’s redemption being primarily attributed to wealth in
and evil being attributed to the gods in
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Dark Knight Rises
make their main heroes seem irresponsible due to their careless decisions, mostly at the end of their respective stories.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
, and the original
paint heroes like Superman, the Scarlet Witch, and the X-Men in a bad light, as their morality suddenly becomes too black-and-white.
Comic book movies usually hide a life lesson within their spectacular action, but some Marvel and DC movies have accidentally ended up delivering a different message than they originally intended. Like any other medium, comic books address a variety of themes and motifs. For instance, almost every Batman story often deals with themes like justice and vengeance, and Spider-Man’s stories usually deal with themes like responsibility and sacrifice. Although comic books and visual novels like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns take a different approach and deconstruct the medium, sometimes, the main message of certain comic books simply fails to translate properly.
The same thing happens with live-action comic book adaptations. Comic book movies can have very clear-cut themes, as with The Dark Knight‘s examination of ethics and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s fatherhood motif, but they can also struggle to establish their stance on a topic, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s inconclusive exploration of heroism and justice, or deliver a lesson that goes against the characters’ original principles. Sometimes, these messages can even be completely contradictory to the movie’s premise or even paint the heroes as villains.
12 Wealth Is The Fastest Path To Redemption – Iron Man
Jon Favreau’s Iron Man started what would become a long and heroic journey for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, from eccentric millionaire to universal savior. However, what Iron Man and the rest of Tony Stark’s MCU appearances overlook is Iron Man’s off-screen villain story. Stark used to be a warmonger who created and sold weapons of mass destruction, relishing in the profits and indulging in a life of excess. While Tony Stark’s brush with death motivates him to redeem himself, it’s his wealth and his power that do the brunt of the work. Stark’s near-superhuman intellect can only take him so far without the money and resources he needs to create all the Iron Man technology and ensure his redemption.
11 Humanity Is Not To Blame For Evil and Injustice – Wonder Woman
Diana Prince spends most of Wonder Woman‘s runtime obsessed with the idea that Ares has been influencing humans to fight each other. Meanwhile, Steve Trevor tries to show her that humans have always been corrupted by selfishness and hatred. When Diana kills General Ludendorff, it seems like she’s about to realize that getting rid of evil isn’t as easy as eliminating the person that embodies it — a lesson that hits very close to home in real life. However, it’s soon revealed that Diana was right, and killing Ares magically ends the war. Whatever that means for every conflict and man-made tragedy that happens afterward, including the plot of other DCEU movies, is up to the audience’s consideration.
10 Power Lets You Play With Other People’s Lives – The Flash
The Flash explores a very clear theme through Barry Allen’s attempt to change his past. In fact, Ben Affleck’s Batman explains The Flash‘s main message perfectly to the speedster, saying “those scars we have make us who we are. We’re not meant to go back and fix them. And there’s nothing broken with you that needs to be fixed.” Barry accepts this lesson only after causing Supergirl and two Batmen to die, so he makes the hard choice and lets his mother stay dead in order to restore reality. Yet, before he returns, Barry changes the past once again to help his father avoid imprisonment, and he keeps toying with reality out of sheer curiosity afterward.
9 Promises Can Be Broken If Nobody Notices – The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man tackles Spider-Man’s classic theme of responsibility not only through Uncle Ben’s death, but also through Peter Parker’s struggle with balancing his superhero duties with his love for Gwen Stacy. Spider-Man’s battle with the Lizard results in Captain Stacy’s death. Before he dies, Gwen’s father asks Peter to promise that he will stay far away from Gwen in order to protect her, and Peter complies. However, Peter immediately breaks his promise as soon as things go back to normal, and he has the nerve to challenge Captain Stacy’s words, whispering to Gwen that broken promises “…are the best kind”.
In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker feels more confident both as Spider-Man and as Gwen Stacy’s boyfriend. Despite having to face increasingly dangerous villains, he convinces Gwen not to take her flight to London, and she ends up aiding him in battle because of it. In the end, it turns out that Peter Parker’s promise to Captain Stacy should have remained unbroken, as Gwen Stacy dies while helping Spider-Man fight the Green Goblin. Considering how The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shows the tragic consequences of Peter Parker’s broken promise, it’s safe to say that The Amazing Spider-Man ends with a very irresponsible message.
8 Trauma Makes You Irredeemably Evil – Doctor Strange 2
By itself, Scarlet Witch’s appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seems like a regular villain role due to her unambiguously evil behavior. But Wanda Maximoff had already gone through a dramatic character arc beforehand, going from vengeful antagonist to heroic superhero and then a victim of her own power. Wanda had already experienced many tragedies in her life before Vision’s death, but she had also admitted that her reactions had gone too far before. Her loss of control in WestView, which caused her to mind-control an entire town, assured her that she can’t let her powers get the best of her.
Yet, Scarlet Witch becomes completely corrupted by the Darkhold in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and she kills multiple innocent people in gruesome fashion just because they’re in her way. She doesn’t even have compassion for Reed Richards’ children despite the pain of having lost her own kids. In short, Wanda Maximoff’s emotional pain motivates her to become a fully fledged villain despite having learned to deal with tragedy multiple times in the past. Thanks to the Darkhold’s effects on Wanda Maximoff, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness makes it seem as if Scarlet Witch’s only reason to be a cruel mass murderer is her tragic past.
7 One Person Can Dictate The Fate Of The World, If Powerful Enough – Superman IV
Christopher Reeve’s Superman proved his worth as a superhero to the world multiple times, so by Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he’s a cherished hero everybody admires and trusts. However, Reeve’s fourth and final Superman film goes overboard and sees every nation in the world give up their nuclear weapons just because Superman pressures them into doing so. By unanimously agreeing to obey Superman’s orders, all governments reveal their blind trust in one man’s morals and capabilities. If Superman weren’t so naturally benevolent, the fate of the world would still depend on the most powerful person’s mercy toward Earth, and there wouldn’t be anybody who could effectively oppose him if his intentions changed.
5 Defeating The Villain Saves The Day – The Avengers
The action-fueled plots of most superhero movies tend to result in lots of collateral damage. But even though other superheroes have been more destructive, the Avengers’ lack of concern for New York at the end of 2012’s The Avengers makes them stand out. The Avengers’ battle against Loki almost levels New York City, yet Earth’s Mightiest Heroes only focus on neutralizing the Chitauri army and capturing Loki. As soon as the battle is over, the Avengers go for a round of shawarma and part ways, leaving countless innocent victims of the battle to fend for themselves and rebuild their city without any extra help. Tony Stark is also shameless enough to renovate his tower as soon as he can.
3 Anyone Can Be Batman – The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises features Batman’s final mission before retirement, but it doesn’t mark the end of his legacy. After Bruce Wayne fakes his death, he leaves his gear and resources to detective John “Robin” Blake, who seemingly accepts the responsibility of becoming Gotham’s next protector. But as motivated as Blake could be, Batman is putting both Blake and Gotham in danger. John Blake is nowhere near as prepared to be Batman as Bruce Wayne, and any wrong decision he makes could end in tragedy. Batman’s successful career was due to many variables that are almost impossible to replicate, including his wealth, obsessive personality, intellect, and highly specialized training.
2 The Same Solution Applies To Everybody’s Problems – The X-Men Trilogy
Like the source material, Fox’s original X-Men trilogy tackles themes of discrimination and self-acceptance, with mutants fighting to have their rights recognized by humans despite their potentially dangerous abilities. While most of Fox’s X-Men movies explore these topics with sympathy for the mutants, the first trilogy doesn’t dive too deep into the unfair difference between mutations. The Brotherhood of Mutants wants mutantkind to liberate itself from humanity, and the X-Men want mutants to coexist with humans. However, neither team admits that certain mutants may want to lie low, others may want to embrace their mutations, and others may want a cure simply because their mutations are undeniably cumbersome.
In X-Men: The Last Stand, while the X-Men, the Brotherhood, and the government are fighting over the mutant cure, Beast tells Storm, “Not all of us can fit in so easily. You don’t shed on the furniture”. While this dilemma seems like the ideal core theme for the X-Men movies, none of them put much thought into it. Instead, the fight for mutants to be accepted by society makes Magneto and any mutant who shares his ideals come across as human-hating extremists, and lucky mutants with convenient powers are shown enjoying their superhero status as they claim victory over the less glamorous ones.
1 Power Is All You Need To Be A Hero – Shazam & Shazam: Fury Of The Gods
Billy Batson’s ability to transform into DC’s champion of the gods may have been based on his pure spirit, but it’s also true that the Wizard ran out of time when he chose the child. Billy Batson is an especially immature kid, and his siblings only receive their own power-up because Billy needed help. Billy keeps using his superpowers for fun even after building up experience as a superhero in Shazam: Fury of the Gods, and he struggles to keep a composed attitude when the stakes are high. Considering the immense responsibility that rests on their shoulders, it seems like the Shazam Family earned their powers by sheer luck.